Ah, Spring! Time to crack the windows when the sun is shining and open the doors just far enough to kick the kids outside to play. This is the perfect time to do what I call Spring Cleaning: Juniors Edition. This is a covert operation as it must be done whilst my unsuspecting little hoarder is outside, blissfully unaware that her rock collection is going back to its rightful place under our deck. The approach of spring is a great time to do an unofficial assessment of the toys your children really play with versus those that are taking up precious play space. As in, if that Barbie Dream House hasn’t been touched all winter when your kiddo was trapped indoors, it’s time to foreclose on that play space real estate and move on!
I come by my anti-clutter behavior naturally. My parents raised my three sisters and I in a 1200 sq. ft. house. With three bedrooms and one bathroom, there was no room for clutter. When all four girls were living at home, we were two to a bedroom, the “little girls” and “big girls”. One by one, as we graduated and moved out, the next oldest got her own room and a ceremonial paint change for the walls. I never felt crowded or cramped. My home was always a clean, cozy, and welcoming place on a quiet street with a big backyard, trees, and a garden. How did my parents do it? One word: Organization. And two more: Minimal clutter. My mom was a militant organizer with no toy left unturned in her quest to maintain some sort of sanity. Decades before Pinterest or blogs, my mom wielded her organizational power with nothing more than Rubbermaid tubs and a laser-like focus on our bedroom floors. I had a “rainy day” drawer where I could stash anything I wanted, but anything else was fair game. Barbies, doll clothes, craft supplies–all were neatly stored out of sight where we either asked for them to play or, if we went more than six months without asking, they were gathered up and sold at our annual yard sale. My dad got in on the organizing act too, organizing my baby sister’s Legos by color and type with his label maker.
Fast forward to my home, which is more than twice the size of my childhood home. We have one child, but she has enough toys to open a small daycare center. We don’t have a “playroom” and my husband has meticulous tendencies a’ la Sleeping with the Enemy, so we’ve never had toys permanently parked in our main living areas. At the end of each season, we take stock of her room and purge. Dried out markers are trashed, toys that she’s outgrown or for which there is simply no room are donated, and a few are boxed and stored for her to have when she’s grown, like her Breyer horse collection, complete with stalls and jumps. Everything else has a place tucked away in things like toy organizers or wall-mounted bookshelves. If you’re ready to do some Spring Cleaning: Juniors Edition, all you need is a sunny day (so you can kick the kids outside and away from the clutter carnage), a strategy, and a few organizational aids.
Establish a space and stick to it.
I realize play spaces are different for every family and for every stage in our kids’ lives. Little toddlers are going to have toys wherever you are whereas bigger kids should be able to keep their toys in their own space. My daughter is seven now, so I can expect that she can contain her clutter to her space. I would never store my Kitchen Aid in her bedroom, so I don’t want to find her lego collection stacked by the home entertainment system. You might also take a fresh look at their existing space for space-making possibilites. We recently sold our daughter’s bed and used the money to buy a loft bed, giving her a fun little play nook under the bed and nearly doubling her space. Which was promptly filled with a Barbie Dream House, but you get the idea.
Spring means yard sale season is just around the corner! Ask your mom friends on the block if they want to have a multi-party sale and then get a big box, channel my mother, and start a yard sale pile. Making plans for a yard sale with friends gives you a deadline and can keep you accountable, because no one wants to be the friend who flaked on a yard sale plan. Note: Only make this pile if you’re actually going to have a yard sale…otherwise, you’ll just move the box around until your child discovers them and then you start all over again! For those toys that are still age appropriate but for which there just isn’t room and they aren’t played with every day, place them in big plastic tubs, store them out of sight, and wait until they ask for them or six months, whichever comes first.
Get some organizational helpers.
My sister Sara has four littles aged ten and under in a three-bedroom home so obviously I asked her what she’s done to contain the clutter! She says the IKEA Trofast System saved her life. Also, coffee. Lots of coffee. But back to the system. The Trofast is a durable, multi-function shelving system with sturdy bins for everything from legos to dolls and blocks. She recommends the solid wood option, and has had hers for six years so far without so much as a nick. She also has a friend who used two of the lower frames back to back with the top doing double-duty as a lego table. Brill.
While the IKEA system is a great value, if your organizing budget is more in the $5 range, never fear! You can pick up these plastic bins at Target and make some serious organizing progress for around $20. If you do go this route, be sure to visit the regular organizing section rather than the “kids” toy storage aisle. The latter will have products made of the same materials but cunningly marketed as “toy organizers” for twice the price.
And what about all that artwork?
The only thing that piles up faster than toys is kids’ artwork.
Toss 99% of it. Thoughtfully judge the artistic merits of each precious piece, and then invest in a magnet bar or cork rail to display their latest work (another one of my sister’s clean room solutions). When it’s time to purge the art, I lovingly fold up about a month’s worth and send it to Grandma and Grandpa in the mail. They love it! Or, they’re lying to me. Either way, it’s out of my house.
The Follow Up
Finally, once the room is purged and the shelves are safely fixed to the walls (safety first in rooms with little ones!), call your kiddos back inside. Give them a tour of their newly cleaned and organized space, showing them where things go and reassuring them that their favorites are still accessible if they want them. And, this is the most important step, make them keep it clean! Kids crave order and structure, so this is the perfect place to help them learn how to respect a space and the things in it. Make it clear that things left out of place are subject to removal. Let out a big evil laugh as you leave the room and go make a cocktail.
What are your organizational tips and tricks to keep the clutter under control? Share them in the comments!